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Bowers & Wilkins has a certain kind of customer in mind for the latest generation of its Panorama soundbar: one who simply wants to make their TV’s crappy audio sound better. With the all-in-one Panorama 3, its first Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar, B&W has managed to do just that, delivering a high-end but practically plug-and-play speaker that will appeal to the no-nonsense streaming crowd.
But while the simple and elegant Panorama 3 is certainly easy to use, it comes with some tough-to-swallow limitations for a $1,000 soundbar. For one thing, there’s no DTS decoding, which means Blu-ray lovers will need to jump through hoops to make the Panorama play nice with their discs. There are also precious few audio settings, meaning there’s not much tinkering you can do with the Panorama’s sound. Finally, the soundbar can’t be upgraded with additional speakers, such as wireless surrounds or–crucially–a subwoofer.
Granted, the Panorama 3 does sound sweet in a variety of situations, with punchy and dynamic sound, while music fairly oozes with atmosphere. But like many other all-in-one soundbars, the Panorama 3 struggles with bass, and since you can’t upgrade it, you’re in a “what you hear is what you get” situation (those are B&W’s words, not mine).
The Panorama 3 does come with a bevy of bells and whistles befitting its lofty price tag, including built-in Alexa, AirPlay 2, Bluetooth with Qualcomm’s AptX Adaptive (a rarity for soundbars), eARC, and B&W’s sleek Music app. There’s also a nifty, illuminated series of touch controls, plus a long but low-profile design that delivers a wide soundstage without blocking the bottom of your screen.
B&W has certainly delivered on its promises with the Panorama 3, but is what they’ve delivered a good value? Personally, I have a tough time recommending a $1,000 all-in-one soundbar that can’t be upgraded, particularly given that two of our favorite high-end all-in-ones–the Sonos Arc and the Bose Smart Soundbar 900–can be upgraded.
B&W Paramount 3 design and specs
The 3.1.2-channel Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 comes equipped with a total of 13 drivers, including a pair of upfiring 50mm woven glass-fiber cones that bounce Dolby Atmos cues off your ceiling. The left, right, and center channels share six more of the 50mm woven glass-fiber drivers along with a trio of 19mm titanium dome tweeters, while two integrated 100mm subwoofers supply the bass.
Unlike other all-in-one soundbars we’ve tested, the Panorama 3 can’t be upgraded with additional speakers, such as an external subwoofer or a wireless surround speaker kit. Instead, B&W says the Panorama 3 has been designed “very specifically” to deliver “a good and satisfying level of performance” from a single speaker. If you do want a B&W-made soundbar that can be upgraded, there’s always the $1,299 Formation soundbar, although that unit lacks not only Dolby Atmos support but also HDMI.
Weighing in at 14.3 pounds, the 46.6-inch long Panorama 3 should make a nice fit in front of 55-inch and larger TVs, and at just 2.5 inches high, the top of the speaker barely grazed the bottom of my low-slung LG C9 OLED TV. Besides placing the soundbar in front of the TV, you could also mount it under your screen, and a mounting bracket comes included for that very purpose.
Aesthetically speaking, the Panorama 3 has a decidedly premium look, with a fabric-covered, diamond-shaped circumference topped by a dark metal grille. A glossy vertical strip sitting in the middle of the soundbar’s top surface houses five touch-sensitive controls that light up when your hand approaches, a nifty touch (literally). I’ll detail the touch controls in a moment.
Inputs, connectors on the B&W Paramount 3
Bowers & Wilkins decided to keep it simple with the Panorama 3, and it certainly did so when it comes to the soundbar’s inputs, opting only for a single HDMI-eARC connector and an optical (Toslink) input. So if you own a relatively modern TV (as in one made within the last 10 years or so) with a matching HDMI-ARC interface, you can simply connect your set with a single HDMI cable; the soundbar will then receive audio from from any video source plugged into your TV’s HDMI inputs, along with sound from any built-in smart TV apps. Legacy TVs with optical connections will also work, but if you have an older set with only RCA-style audio outputs, you’re out of luck.
Also out of luck are those who want to connect their HDMI-enabled game consoles and Blu-ray players directly to the Panorama 3. Luckily, the soundbar does support eARC, an “enhanced” version of ARC that allows for lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats. As long as your TV also supports eARC (more and more are in the past few years), your set will be able to pass lossless audio to the Panorama 3 from, say, a UHD Blu-ray player via the HDMI-ARC interface.
A quick word about DTS (and DTS:X, for that matter) on the Panorama 3: It’s not supported, given that the soundbar lacks a DTS decoder. For those who primarily consume their video from streaming services, that’s not a big deal, since all the major ones (Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+, etc.) only use Dolby audio formats (and indeed, in a briefing, B&W execs called the Panorama 3 a “Dolby-oriented product”). But if you’re a Blu-ray connoisseur or you subscribe to a high-end streamer such as Kaleidescape that does offer DTS audio, you’ll need to offload DTS decoding to another device (such as your Blu-ray player or TV), and then send the resulting audio to the Panorama 3 via multichannel PCM. It’s a doable process, but it can also be a pain depending on the foibles of your equipment.
Besides the HDMI and optical connectors, there’s also an ethernet jack for a wired network connection, a USB-C service port, and a power cable connector.
An HDMI cable does come included with the soundbar, but you’ll need to supply your own optical cable if you need one.
Setting up the B&W Panorama 3 soundbar
Given that it’s an all-in-one soundbar, physical setup for the Panorama 3 is a breeze, particularly if you’re not wall-mounting it; just plunk the speaker in front of your TV (well, don’t actually “plunk” it) and plug it in. B&W has some broad guidelines for placement: Don’t put it in a corner or too close to an adjacent wall, make sure the furniture you place it on isn’t too “flimsy” or “resonant,” and so on.
Connecting the B&W Panorama 3 to your home network is a simple process made easier by the sleek Bowers & Wilkins Music app. Once you’ve powered on the soundbar, the B&W app should detect the Panorama automatically by detecting its Bluetooth signature; tapping the “Multifunction” button on the soundbar confirms the connection. Next, you add the soundbar to a “space” in your home, such as Basement, Bedroom, Den, or Living Room. You’ll then need to tap the Multifunction button again to choose your Wi-Fi network and enter your router password. As a (welcome) final touch, the app will help you check whether you’ve properly connected the Panorama 3 to your TV via HDMI-ARC or Toslink.
Unfortunately, the Panorama 3 lacks a room calibration feature like those we’ve seen from the likes of Bose, LG, Samsung, and Sonos. While we don’t generally expect automatic room calibration in budget- or even mid-priced soundbars, they’re far more common in the Panorama 3’s price range, and the ability to tune the speaker’s audio according to the acoustics of the room would’ve been a welcome addition.
Buttons, indicators, and app control on the B&W Panorama 3
As I previously mentioned, the B&W Panorama 3 has a stripe of touch-sensitive controls on the top of the soundbar cabinet. With help from a proximity sensor, these buttons light up when your hand approaches.
The functions of most of the touch-enabled buttons are obvious; play/pause, for example, as well as volume up and down. A little less obvious is the small circular button at the bottom, which can either wake Alexa or mute her mics (we’ll get to Alexa shortly) Finally, the top Multifunction button serves as an input selector in regular operation or a pairing button during setup, while also doubling as an indicator light (flashing blue, for example, when Bluetooth pairing mode is initiated).
Besides the Multifunction button/light, there’s a slender LED on the front of the Panorama that glows blue when Alexa is listening. There’s no light that flashes when you’re adjusting the volume, which would have been helpful.
Similar to the Sonos Arc, the Panorama 3 doesn’t ship with a remote; instead, you use your standard TV remote to control the soundbar’s volume. If your TV supports HDMI-CEC (a feature that allows your set to send commands to HDMI-connected devices), your TV’s remote should control the soundbar automatically. If you’re using a different setup, you can use the B&W Music app to teach the soundbar how to respond to your TV remote’s IR transmissions.
Speaking of apps, the B&W Music app offers another way to take charge of the soundbar, although the available controls are somewhat limited. You can adjust the volume, of course, as well as tinker with treble and bass sliders (available levels are between -6dB and +6db), but that’s it. There aren’t any sound modes to apply (though the app will tell you if the soundbar is receiving a Dolby Atmos signal), for example, nor can you trim channel volume levels. That may sound disappointing, but it’s in line with B&W’s stated goal of making the Panorama 3 a no-fuss experience.
Indeed, the sleek B&W Music app is mainly focused on streaming music, which we’ll talk about right now.
Using the B&W Music app
Like many apps for networked speakers, the B&W Music app lets you sign in to a variety of streaming music services for native audio streaming, but there are some glaring omissions. Tidal is one of the choices, as well as Deezer and Qobuz. But that’s it as far as the major streamers go–there’s no Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, or YouTube Music, although you do get Last.fm, TuneIn, Soundcloud, NTS Radio, and Dash Radio.
Luckily, the Panorama 3 does support Spotify Connect, while AirPlay 2 allows Apple users to stream tunes from any supported app, including the aforementioned Amazon Music, Apple Music, and YouTube Music.
Even better, the Panorama 3 is one of the very few soundbars I’ve tested to support Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive, a codec that can serve up high-resolution audio via Bluetooth. Unfortunately, I was unable to test the Panorama’s aptX functionality, given that my iPhone doesn’t support the codec; an Android model, however, likely would.
Alexa on the B&W Panorama 3
As I mentioned earlier, the Panorama 3 does offer onboard Alexa if you link your Alexa account–and of course, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Once you’ve enabled Alexa, you can chat with her just as you would on a standard Echo speaker; for example, she can give you a weather report, set a timer, control your smart home devices, or tell you a joke (she loves doing that). Alexa can also adjust the Panorama 3’s volume, although saying “Alexa, set the volume in B&W Panorama to 3” is a mouthful.
Besides giving you weather reports and setting alarms, Alexa can also play music through the soundbar via voice commands, and because she can play tunes from any of her own supported music services–including Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Pandora–she fills in some of the gaps in the B&W Music app. Even if you are streaming tunes from the B&W app, Alexa can skip tracks or pause the music if you ask her.
My gripe about Alexa on the Panorama 3 is similar to the one I have about Alexa on just about any soundbar: Her voice volume is tied to the main volume level, and that means Alexa could very well end up yelling at you if you have the audio cranked too loud. On the Panorama 3, I nearly fell off the sofa when Alexa began SPEAKING VERY LOUDLY because the volume was dialed up a tad. I’ll say it yet again: Alexa on soundbars needs to have her own discrete volume level.
The B&W Panorama 3’s audio performance
Bowers and Wilkins execs have gone to great lengths to explain what the Panorama 3 was–and wasn’t–designed to do, noting that it isn’t intended to replace an A/V receiver and a full-on 5.1-channel speaker package (as some other high-end soundbars arguably are), but rather to “supplement and hopefully greatly improve upon the sound of your TV” without “any additional componentry.” Put another way, the Panorama 3 is designed to “suit the majority of use cases for the typical user” rather than home theater fanatics who want tons of options and expansion opportunities.
After listening to the Panorama 3 for several weeks, I fully agree that the Panorama 3 will offer a huge boost in audio performance over just about any integrated TV speakers. But while it does deliver an impressively wide 3-channel soundstage with exciting dynamics and aggressive height cues, the Panorama 3’s built-in subwoofers just can’t deliver the deep boom that an external sub can. That’s an issue with almost every all-in-one soundbar, both budget and premium alike (although the Sonos Arc’s built-in woofers can almost–almost–stand on their own).
There are a couple of mitigating factors when it comes to so-so bass on an all-in-one soundbar: price and upgradability. With a bargain-priced all-in-one soundbar intended for, say, a second room, the iffy bass probably won’t be that big of a deal. With a pricier one-piece soundbar that’s upgradeable, you can always boost its bass later with an external sub. The $100 Roku Streambar falls into the former category (although you can actually upgrade that soundbar with a subwoofer if you want to), while the Sonos Arc and the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 (each $900) fall into the latter category–and incidentally, if I had a dollar for every time an Arc owner broke down for the Sonos Sub and then raved about their greatly improved sound…
The Panorama 3 is an odd beast in that it a) costs a lofty $1,000 and b) can’t be upgraded with a sub or any other speakers. I totally get that B&W is aiming this soundbar at users who want a “simple” and “elegant” way to replace their iffy TV speakers, but to invest that much cash in a component that can’t be upgraded at all–especially with a subwoofer, which is probably the most popular upgrade for those who do buy all-in-one soundbars–just seems wrong to me.
Now, there are plenty of other good–really good–things I could say about the Panorama 3’s sound. Take the battle of Hoth on the UHD of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. For the most part, this thrilling sequence sounded impressively punchy and dynamic, with sharp, exciting laser blasts, clear height cues as an Imperial Walker’s massive foot prepares to stomp Luke Skywalker, and the clean, crisp strains of John Williams’s iconic score. The Panorama 3’s 46.6-inch width also pays off with an enveloping soundstage, while dialogue was prominent and clear without tipping over into shrillness.
But the low-frequencies, while present, too often disappointed. Yes, I heard some decent thumps as the Imperial Walkers stomped across the snow, and there was a nice “thunk” when Luke’s tether clamped onto the Walker’s belly. But the deep roar of the Millennium Falcon’s engines as it corkscrewed away from pursuing Tie Fighters was, well, only OK (I thought the all-in-one Sonos Arc delivered deeper bass at that moment), while some of the big explosions during the Hoth fight felt a little hollow. Yep, that’s an all-in-one soundbar for you, but this (non-upgradable) one costs $1,000, not $200.
Next, I jumped to the opening sequence of 1978’s Superman on iTunes, with its soaring (literally) credits now benefiting from the Atmos treatment. On the plus side, the Panorama 3 did a marvelous job with John Williams’s famous Superman theme, punctuated by the “whooshes” of the titles, and again, I was impressed with the Panorama’s punchiness and dynamics (I’ve tested other recent competitors that sound mushy and dull in comparison). But again, the bass was merely sufficient rather than truly deep, with Richard Donner’s “Directed by” credit missing the powerful “clunk!” that an external subwoofer can deliver.
The Panorama 3 will upmix non-Atmos 5.1-channel content to take advantage of the soundbar’s upfiring drivers, and for this I tried the Blu-ray of The Grandmaster. (As the Panorama lacks a DTS processor, I had my TV convert the disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack to multichannel PCM.) For the opening battle when Ip Man battles dozens of opponents, the clattering rain drops sounded terrific, with the Panorama deftly shifting those plops to the height channels, while the thwacks and thunks of Ip Man’s fists sounded alive and exciting. Again, the bass was adequate, although there’s not much in the way of really low frequencies in this sequence.
Heading back to Dolby Atmos territory, I ended with the UHD Blu-ray of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, and its opening scene of a dark, dystopian Los Angeles. The Panorama 3 did a nice job delivering Vangelis’ warm, silky score, and the spinners flying above and below the screen sounded sharp and (at one particular moment) startlingly three-dimensional. But that big orange fireball that erupts with a big “ba-boom!” sounded, well, empty, and even a tad harsh.
For 2.0-channel music sources, the Panorama 3 upconverts the audio to 3.1 channels (thus skipping the upfiring drivers), and the results can be glorious depending on what you’re listening to. I thought the soundbar shined when playing Chet Baker’s “Solar” on Qobuz, with dazzling atmospherics and a beautiful, pure tone from Baker’s trumpet. “Long Train Runnin’” by The Doobie Brothers (again on Qobuz) was vital and fairly popping with detail, with the Panorama delivering clean vocals and a nice, wide soundstage. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” sounded spare and simple, with the soundbar keeping the reediness of The Boss’s vocals intact. But the deep baseline of Billie Eilish’s “Oxytocin” proved to be a challenge, with the Panorama’s built-in subs straining to keep up with the huge beats.
Bottom-line opinion of the B&W Panorama 3
The Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 is simple to use, packs high-end features, and arrives with an appropriately high-end price tag, but a $1,000 all-in-one soundbar that can’t be upgraded is a tough pill to swallow. One could argue that the Panorama 3 is well suited for deep-pocketed viewers who want the best no-fuss, all-in-one soundbar they can buy. That said, there are plenty of premium all-on-one options that can be augmented with additional speakers (again, the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 and the Sonos Arc spring to mind), and shoppers should consider those carefully before taking the Panorama 3 plunge.
Updated on May 6, 2022 with a correction: The Panorama 3 weighs 14.3 pounds (or 6.5 kg), not 6.5 pounds. Our apologies for the error.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.